Beware crafty job scammers, even on the most trusted classified ad sites
"I feel like I am being scammed."
So began the message from "Sophie," a Maryland resident whose story is a reminder that even on reputable sites such as Monster, Glassdoor, LinkedIn and, yes, The Washington Post classifieds, scammers are lurking, hoping to bilk desperate jobseekers. And, as The Post's own fraud guidelines note, "no site can guarantee absolute security."
Sophie had found an ad on The Post's online job classifieds for a "Personal Assistant to Project Manager." The job, listed under a legitimate Seattle-based engineering company, called for helping a "busy executive ... manage his personal and household affairs" during a move to the United States.
Sophie, who has years of experience providing such services, applied and received an email from the "busy executive" -- but instead of the company in the ad, he said he worked for a construction company called White Owl. He offered a "trial assessment," saying he was too busy to do an interview. Sophie replied with questions about the job and a request for information about White Owl, which she couldn't find online.
A month later, the executive responded. Ignoring her questions, he assigned her a series of tasks -- purchasing and sending him electronic devices and paying for some cargo shipments. He said she would be reimbursed by either "certified cashier's check" or direct deposit, once she provided some personal information.
Are alarm bells going off in your head yet? They were in Sophie's. The "executive's" email contained other red flags: poor English; an online-only contact with a generic email address; a "temporary wage" for the initial tasks, with promises to discuss salary later.
Sophie stopped replying and contacted me to ask my opinion. An editorial assistant passed her message to The Washington Post Jobs support team.
Lonzell Offutt, who manages The Post's online classifieds platforms, agreed that the job offer looked dodgy. Offutt's team uses automated filters and manual review protocols to scan the site's thousands of job ads, flagging and removing potentially fraudulent postings. In fact, the team had already uncovered and deleted one ad from White Owl. But then the scammer changed tactics, posting an ad using the name of the real engineering company to slip past The Post's gatekeepers. Once jobseekers responded to that ad and connected with White Owl, they would have to rely on their own mental fraud filters. Fortunately, Sophie did.
Thanks to her warning, Offutt's team has tracked down and alerted users who may have replied to the fraudulent ad.
The lessons: Even when using a trusted platform, be skeptical, listen to your gut and get a second opinion. And even with the most advanced cybersecurity, Offutt notes, there's no substitute for in-person contact to get a good idea of whom you're dealing with: "Technology is advanced -- but not so advanced that we shouldn't meet and shake someone's hand."
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PRO TIP: If you encounter a job scam, in addition to notifying the host site, you can report the incident to the Federal Trade Commission at ftccomplaintassistant.gov.
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